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Annual Poetry Festival shares authors with Tucson

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Ian Green

Erín Moure reads during the 34th Annual Tucson Poetry Festival on April 29 at 191 Toole. This year’s festival was held in honor of Lusia Slomkowska, a Polish-American writer. 

The 34th Annual Tucson Poetry Festival celebrates local and non-local writers. This year, the event featured six festival poets at 191 E. Toole Ave. The festival began Saturday, April 29, at 10 a.m. with workshops all day.

This year’s festival was held in honor of Lusia Slomkowska, who was a Polish-American writer, translator and activist for lesbian and feminist issues. Throughout Slomkowska’s writings, she, according to Kore Press, explored “her identity as a Polish-American, lesbian writer and the daughter of a Nazi genocide survivor.”

To commence the reading portion of the festival, a few pieces by the late Slomkowska were read from her  book “Wire & Wail,” which made its debut at the festival.

Em Bowen, executive director of the poetry festival, introduced each of the six readers of the evening. 

The first reader was Enrique García Naranjo, a poet, performer and pocho from Tucson. “Pocho,” according to Oxford’s Dictionary, is a term that refers to a United States citizen of Mexican origin.

García Naranjo, 21, was 16 when he first read at a poetry festival. The Tucson Youth Poetry Slam alumnus and a Spoken Futures INC staff member published his debut collection of poetry, “Tortoise Boy Says,” through Spoken Future Press in 2014.

He read some of his previous works, alongside newer pieces. His poems switch between Spanish and English. 

“It takes a community to raise an artist,” García Naranjo said. 

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His poems focus on an array of social issues, such as immigration.

Erik Loya-Tolano, the 2017 Tucson Youth Poetry Slam winner, was the second reader of the festival. 

Loya-Tolano also held a free youth workshop at 11 a.m. to help youth explore art, poetry and activism through their own voices.

Dr. Ofelia Zepeda, a member of the Tohono O‘odham Nation and regents’ professor of linguistics in the Department of Linguistics at the UA, read her poem, “The Place Where Clouds Are Formed,”  from her book of then same name. This collection was published by the University of Arizona Press in 2008.

“There are a lot of things about Tucson that can stir the creative force in someone,” she said.

Zepeda’s works include descriptions of sites in nature, such as rivers, oceans and the mountains, especially those found here in Tucson. 

After a short intermission, Bowen introduced the second set of readers for the evening. The first reader of the second installment was Erín Moure

Moure, a North American poet and translator, read pieces of poetry, some including words or phrases in Galician. 

She has published approximately 17 books of poetry, short stories, essays and more. She has also helped translate over 17 books of poetry and two creative non-fictions to English from Spanish, Portuguese, French and Galician.

Moure read a few poems, including “Songstress” and “Apples.”

Jericho Brown, an associate professor in English and creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta, read a series of nine short poems. 

He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and has had his poems appear in many publications.

His poems range from themes such as racial inequality and police brutality to Greek mythology and cuddling.

Brown’s first poem was written in response to the deaths of individuals that supposedly committed suicide while in police custody. 

A few of the other poems Brown read also discussed such issues. 

“Some way or another it always seems that my poems can come out of my childhood even if they are not directly about my childhood,” Brown said.

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As a child, Brown loved riddles and tried to intertwine poetry and riddles in his poem, “Riddle.” The poem speaks out about Emmett Till, a young African American who was brutally murdered in August of 1955.

“I love poetry so much, and I believe in it as a force—as a spiritual energy,” Brown said. “The only thing I love more than poetry is cuddling.”

His last poem of the evening focused on the feeling of cuddling with another.

As Brown exited the stage, Bowen took the place at the podium. 

“I think we can all agree that poetry is a major force, and that’s what brings us here,” Bowen said. “In my perception, it is a nonlinear response to the linear world we live in.”

The last reader of the evening was Natalie Diaz, an assistant professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University. Diaz is Mohave Indian and a member of the Gila River Indian Tribe.

Diaz’s works focus on racial inequality, especially that of the Native Americans. 

In her poem “American Arithmetic,” Diaz states that Native Americans make up less than 1 percent of America but police violence against Native Americans claim more lives than any other race.

Diaz’s other pieces focus on other issues, such as anxiety and the serenity of being with another, or even other forms of art. 

As Diaz finished her readings, Bowen introduced Tucson Poet Laureate T.C. Tolbert to close the poetry festival. 

As the festival came to an end, the individuals began to crowd toward the door, and the festival poets sat alongside the wall on the padded bench seats. 

Sam Scovill, a graduate student in the school of sociology, attended the event to support Bowen, a friend and fellow teammate on the Tucson Women’s Rugby Team. 

“I have not really been involved in poetry here in Tucson before I moved her last summer, so it has definitely been an adventure finding spaces that I really like,” Scovill said. “This was inspiring and brought me into the community in a way that I wasn’t involved in before.”

Kristina Sides, a psychology major at Pima Community College, also thought the event was interesting. 

“I was a little nervous because I thought it was going to be intimidating, but it was super laid-back,” Sides said.

The 34th Annual Tucson Poetry Festival was produced in collaboration with the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Kore Press. The festival was also co-sponsored by Casa Libre. 

For more information on Tucson Poetry Festival, visit tucsonpoetryfestival.org.


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